Why Cheney was toppled, and what it says about the GOP and Trump’s claims
The decisive eviction of Congresswoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) as Republican House conference chair is much more than a change of personnel. In much of the public’s mind, it is largely an official endorsement by the House of Representatives’ Republican delegation of the respectability of former President Trump’s claims that he was cheated in the 2020 election and smeared in the impeachment that followed.
There has been a mighty effort — one in which much of the national political media have joined — to insist that Trump’s claims were entirely debunked by the treatment of his post-election lawsuits. But with Wednesday’s vote to unseat Cheney, the argument that he was cheated is alive, well and, now, inextinguishable.
Trump-hate is the only argument that Democrats have put forth in the past five years to justify a vote for their party for almost any office. The only way to perpetuate Trump-hate has been to inflame the fears of the nation that he attempted to steal the election and to retain the presidency by recourse to inciting mob violence and insurrection. It was with this argument that Ms. Cheney had vocally, repeatedly allied herself and become identified — to the anger and distress of most of her fellow Republicans, of whom she was the third-ranking leader in the House.
From the time of President Biden’s inauguration on, there have been three basic categories of Republicans.
First, there are those who agreed with the former president that he had been cheated.
Second are those Never Trumpers, who could not wait to see the back of him, who insisted he should concede in a sportsmanlike manner as Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush did in the undisputed elections of 1980 and 1992, respectively, and who pretended he was a meteor that passed freakishly through their lives but was now politically lifeless and invisible. This second group is exemplified by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who jubilated that Republicans could get back to the junior partnership in the congressional status quo of slow bipartisan drift to the left that followed President Reagan, but he has been swiftly disabused of his belief that Trump was a vanished influence in the Republican Party and among Republican voters.
The first and second of these groups, in the interests of party unity and a swift recovery at the next elections, are prepared to embrace each other and leave the outcome of the 2020 presidential election as a politely ignored question.
The third group of Republicans are the diehards who wish to purge every stain of what they consider to be Trump’s infected, corroding fingers on their party. Ms. Cheney — though she generally voted with the former president on most policy matters — assumed the de facto leadership of this faction which so hated Trump personally and was so revolted by his stylistic infelicities that it was prepared to condemn as lies any and all arguments that Trump may have been cheated of victory and that he did not deliberately incite insurrection on Jan. 6.
Their position was essentially endorsed by the national media. And the American judiciary declined to judge the merits of most of the 29 lawsuits launched by the Trump campaign (and, in one case, by the attorney general of Texas, supported by 18 other states) challenging the constitutionality of various modifications and interpretations of voting and vote-counting rules, supposedly in response to the public health crisis.
Cheney was, in effect, espousing the Democratic position with her repeated condemnations of Trump. In so doing, she effectively betrayed her own party and, unless she recants with some apparent sincerity, should be expelled from the party. Yet by expelling her from their leadership on Wednesday, House Republicans, in effect, have endorsed the possibility that the former president’s allegations are well-founded — despite House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s insistence that “I don’t think anyone is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election. That is all over with.”
As is frequently the case, the former president has been his own worst enemy by predicting ballot-harvesting but failing to adequately combat it on Election Day, and then allowing a helter-skelter campaign of lawsuits making wild, unsustainable allegations without a serious constitutional point, followed by falsely claiming that he had won the popular vote. In the circumstances, the ex-president is not blameless in his own discomfiture — but that does not make lies out of all of his allegations, nor does it deprive him of the absolute right to a firm belief in his innocence of the charges made against him after the election by his enemies in both parties.
The Supreme Court decided the 2000 Bush v. Gore election, which Democrats have condemned ever since as an electoral theft. Richard Nixon graciously declined to challenge his loss in the 1960 presidential election, despite some evidence casting doubt as to who really was elected. The 1876 election between Rutherford Hayes and Samuel Tilden almost certainly was stolen for Hayes by a partisan congressional commission, but it was accepted on the basis of a compromise between the candidates that was honored. Andrew Jackson long complained that John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay corruptly agreed to deny him a presidential victory in the House of Representatives in 1824. And now, not dissimilarly, for many Republicans and other Trump supporters, the 2020 result will remain an open electoral sore to be settled at a later time.
Liz Cheney is the first post-electoral political fatality of that belief, but she most likely will not be the last — and Democrats show no sign of being ready for what is coming.
Conrad Black is an essayist, former newspaper publisher, and author of 10 books, including three on Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Richard Nixon and Donald Trump. He co-hosts the “Scholars & Sense” podcast with former Education Secretary Bill Bennett and Hoover Institution scholar Victor Davis Hanson. Follow him on Twitter @ConradMBlack.